LAS VEGAS — Derek Fisher made his head coaching debut for the Knicks on Friday, leading the team’s somewhat stacked Summer League squad to a 76-64 victory over the Mavericks.
“There was definitely some emotion coming into the building today, and this morning, as I started to really think about what this meant,” Fisher said. “And that this would be the first time that I got a chance to actually coach my team in a game situation. The players made me look probably better than I am right now, but the same way that I ask them to work hard and continue to do the things they need to do to get better, that’s what I do. And it was a lot of fun today.”
The first game of the day in Las Vegas was merely a backdrop, however, for the avalanche of free agent news that continues to roll in now that the biggest piece to the puzzle has fallen into place.
LeBron James going to the Cavaliers set off a flurry of other moves, but his leaving Miami is likely to have the greatest impact on shifting the balance of power in the Eastern Conference. Fisher reflected on that decision, while still awaiting word on whether or not his own marquee free agent in Carmelo Anthony will choose to be back with the Knicks next season.
“I wasn’t necessarily surprised,” Fisher said of James returning to Cleveland. “It appeared that he was seriously considering it for some days now. So, not so much of a surprise. He appears to be a smart young man, and has always thought of himself as more than just a basketball player. From that standpoint, it looks like things are going to work out, and I’m happy for him and his family if that’s what he truly wants.”
Fisher may not be similarly happy for Anthony if he too should leave, but supports his right to play wherever he chooses.
“I think everyone from our perspective has expressed, directly and indirectly, how we feel about having Carmelo back here and what that would mean,” Fisher said. “But he’s an adult. He’s allowed to make decisions he feels like are best for him and for his family. Whatever decision that is, we’ll respect it, and we’ll have to continue to do what the New York Knicks have to do. But hopefully we’ll hear something soon, so that we can move forward in terms of our business.”
For now, that business involves getting acclimated to his new role as coach, and beginning to work toward putting a system in place that will give New York the best chance to approach the status of contender in the immediate future. While James leaving certainly shifts the focus of power, his new team may not be as well-equipped to instantly compete for a title. But long before LeBron left Miami, Fisher signed up for this gig with the belief that the Knicks could do some damage in the East — a possibility that would seem all the more plausible with Anthony firmly in place.
“I don’t’ know if it’s just about LeBron going to Cleveland,” Fisher said. “I’ve always had the view, before even taking this job, that we would have a chance to compete in the Eastern Conference. I know a lot of people think that we need to change players and we have some guys that can’t play any more, et cetera. That’s just not my belief.”
“We expect to be able to compete in the Eastern Conference,” Fisher said. “Obviously, having Carmelo would make that easier.”